Saturday, January 10, 2009

Showtime for the indiscreet, and standing on the stage…

After two days of singing in the car on my way to and from work I am pretty happy that I’ve remembered all the words for my comeback solo performance (“For one night only, folks, roll up, roll up”) at The Kelvedon Institute in Essex, sandwiched between Cambridge-based master of lugubriosity David Stevenson and club circuit veteran Mike Silver. To appropriate a metaphor I heard recently, I am the sauce between the burger and the bun – not satisfying on its own, but something that will hopefully make the whole experience a little more piquant. At least this is the theory. Both David and Mike are acoustic guitarists of the dropped tuning variety, and so to spice up the constituency of middle-aged white males with jumbo guitars I have elected to delve back into my formative years and perform on an electric and through a Marshall combo, all the better to coax out the subtle nuances of the sound of the Telecaster, and to embrace the inevitable Billy Bragg comparisons. Also, I’m a thrasher, not a picker, and this is going to be much easier with the benefit of amplification. Back in the day I actually played a few pubs in Peterborough where the locals still recalled Mr. Bragg honing his craft, including one locale called New England. True say, brothers and sisters.
Since I’ve borrowed the amp I’m not entirely sure what it’ll sound like but things are satisfyingly simplified by there being a channel which simply has three controls – one for volume, one for treble, and one for bass. This should be a reasonably easy line check. Worryingly, no sound emanates from the rig once I’m all plugged in and so I start switching leads, jiggling knobs, looking for a previously unnoticed ‘standby’ switch and then am relieved to spot that I have actually plugged into the footswitch socket on the front of the fascia. Satisfied that no-one's noticed this elementary faux pas, I stride confidently to the front of the stage to check the monitors. Still no sound. Bugger! Friendly sound engineer James points out that after all the cross referencing of cables for brokenness, I have omitted to plug the lead back in to the guitar. The carefully constructed façade of effortless cool has thus cracked somewhat. Still, guitar sound done, there remains a popping on the microphone which has been set up for someone who can actually sing properly and since I subscribe to the Tom Robinson up close and personal method of waiting until I can feel the wire gauze on my bristles before emoting (and I’ve shaved today) this is clearly going to prove problematic. Luckily a pop shield is sourced and I am able to both relax into my usual mannered vocal style and also put it on the end of my nose so that I look like a muppet, a beloved tradition of many years standing. Sounding like one is something I'm going to have to come to terms with. Second up on the bill, I am introduced on stage by club MC Tony Winn, who gets my name wrong and I launch into the first number, a rowdy thrash about shameless marital infidelity written in the form of a confessional from a fictional third person. Most of tonight’s are, in fact, as I have decided to eschew the songs James and I have been writing for Songs from The Blue House entirely and play some old. After the first couple I am relaxing into the set, and although conscious that this probably not what most of Mike Silver’s audience were hoping for, they are kind enough to applaud the good bits and pass discreetly over the unintentional jazz chord in one middle eight which I decide to hang on for another fifteen bars in the hope that they’ll think it’s part of the arrangement. I think I got away with it. Adrenalin has given me an extra couple of notes on the range, and I’m enjoying the freedom afforded by playing standing up to pace the stage, backing off the mic for loud bits and coming in close to emote sections of what I believe to be breathy intimacy, but what the attentive punters probably understand to be character-led diversions into the persona of a nuisance phone caller. We’ll see, when we review the recording afterwards. The last song comes around and I haven’t fluffed too many chords, have got most of the words in the right order, and have a satisfyingly lengthy round of applause ringing in my ears. I get my gear off and out of the way and bump into Mike who is warming up backstage and who very kindly observes that “I’ve never heard of you, but that was great!” There’s nothing like a bit of peer praise to give you a readybrek glow in a situation like that. Obviously, he’s about to go on, play an hour of wonderful songs, sing in a rich, warm voice and pick guitar parts which are almost baroque in their composition and execution (and get most of the crowd singing heartily along with the choruses) and so he can afford to be generous, but it’s still very kind of him to take the time to mention it. Turns out I’ve sold a CD as well. “That sounded great” says James “I’m not sure what the recording will be like though because when I checked the headphone mix I could hear James Hurley and I’d forgotten to turn my interval mix on the iPod off “ It’s probably for the best. Nothing extinguishes that space cadet glow like listening back to the recording and realising that, yes, that guitar was out of tune for the second half of the set and, no, nobody really did laugh at that joke you put in to the introduction to that other one. Still, I have my memories. Misty Brewers Gold-coloured memories, of the way I was.

1 comment:

Philip Bryer said...

Nuisance phone caller? Still hurts me to laugh, you know.